In 1964, the U.S. had for years been involved in covert operations in Vietnam designed to destabilize the North Vietnamese leadership and goad them into attacking American and South Vietnamese targets. On August 4th, U.S. naval authorities reported one of two recent “torpedo attacks” in the Gulf of Tonkin, torpedo attacks which were later admitted to be entirely faked in order to provide pretext for an open American invasion.
While Lyndon Johnson was declaring a “police action” in the region (essentially a war declared without the authority of Congress) CIA Station Chief Peer DeSilva was organizing Vietnam operations around a new strategy called “counter-terrorism”. This strategy held that terrorism, used in the hands of “the good-guys”, was not only acceptable, but necessary in order to undermine the support structures of the enemy. CIA counter-terror units were formed using mostly South Vietnamese nationals as well as men from surrounding countries. These hit teams, called Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRU’s) were coordinated and led by U.S. special operations officers and CIA liaisons under the umbrella of ICEX – the Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation Program, meant to create perfect information sharing and centralization between various teams. The entire horrifying edifice would eventually be called “The Phoenix Program”:
The Phoenix Program is defended to this day by the CIA as nothing more than a practical counter-insurgency methodology meant to win the war faster, and with fewer casualties:
In fact, some in the mainstream still argue that Phoenix tactics should be used in Afghanistan and Iraq:
But Phoenix went far beyond aspirations of “winning” in Vietnam. The program utilized a “by any means necessary” strategy to warfare that included the use of random assassination and the FABRICATION of enemy atrocities in order to rally the civilian population around U.S. forces. PRU operators routinely targeted the backwater villages of Vietnam, killing at least 20,000 civilians as later admitted by CIA Director William Colby, and 40,000 civilians as estimated by the South Vietnamese Government. The slaughter of villages was frequently blamed on the Vietcong, while PRU’s ran rampant in the jungles, physically mutilating victims in order to draw greater emotional reactions from Southern citizens as well as oblivious Americans back home.
All of this took place under the close supervision of the CIA. Torture was often applied in CIA substations with high tech security. CIA officers carefully selected PRU troops, specifically seeking out ARVN deserters, VC traitors, and South Vietnamese criminals looking for a reduction in their prison sentences. The CIA planned and mapped operations, including death squad operations. They created teams of monsters and unleashed them upon Vietnam, not just to win against the North, but to create the illusion that the U.S. military presence was justified.
Skip ahead about 20 years…
The same exact theater was used in the 1980’s by the CIA in El Salvador. Militants and fascist political leaders, including El Salvadorian dictator-by-election-fraud Roberto D’Aubuission, trained at the Fort Benning, Georgia’s “School of the Americas” (also known as the School of the Assassins) where they learned the same “counter-terror” methods used during the Phoenix Program. This resulted in the formation of the Mano Blanco (the White Hand), a network of ruthless death squads utilized against Salvadorian citizens, killing tens of thousands in a bloodbath that was covertly endorsed by the U.S. government.
Skip ahead another 30 years…
The techniques and technology have become more sophisticated, but the general strategy remains identical.
The Syria crisis is swiftly escalating with the advent of yet another unverified chemical weapons attack on the civilian population that is being used as a broad permit for the Obama Administration to enter into open operations against the Assad government. A previous chemical attack at the beginning of this summer was left unverified, though the establishment went to great lengths to convince the American public that the Assad government was responsible. It certainly didn’t help that the UN was relying purely on “samples” from a French evening newspaper called Le Monde rather than an officially sanctioned source, and that the UN was forced to acknowledge that the Syrian insurgents may have been involved.
Today, the mainstream media and the U.S. government references “strong indications that Syria’s government used chemical weapons in attacks that opposition groups claimed killed more than 1,100 people” as if their version of events is already considered concrete reality:
But where are these “strong indications”? Where is this unassailable evidence of Assad’s involvement? The American public hasn’t been given a scrap of verifiable data concerning the attack and its origin. Once again, we are being asked to accept on simple “faith” that our government is telling us the truth and that military intervention must be supported.
Here is what we DO know for a fact…
The Syrian insurgency is made up primarily of Al Qaeda operatives (terrorists and criminals).
The CIA trained and supported these operatives using Bengahzi as a base for at least a year before the Bengahzi attacks.
Syrian insurgents have been caught on numerous occasions committing startling crimes, including the torture and murder of civilians, and the mutilation of prisoners and even their corpses. Captured Syrian soldiers are commonly executed.
The U.S. government continues to support the insurgents despite their death squad mentality, supplying heavy weapons including anti-aircraft missiles.
We’ve used the analogy before, in particular to describe what happened to the Roman Empire during the latter days of its existence. Looking around various economies in the world today, the same analogy once again comes to mind. One might say that what we see these days is analogous to the more advanced stages of hypothermia.
Early hypothermia may show in nothing more than cold feet, in itself an amusing analogy perhaps. But a body that is exposed to extreme cold over longer periods of time will at some point start to exhibit symptoms such as frostbite, which are the result of the core of the body trying to save itself at the cost of the periphery, the extremities. Typically, a human body, for instance, will lose its toes first because the heart can no longer pump enough blood (heat) to them and at the same time keep the body’s core above a minimum temperature.
In our economies we see the same pattern. It is not generally looked at or even recognized, however, since 99% of us live in denial of the possibility that such a thing would even be an option. This is a direct consequence of the fact that, first, all major news makers and decision makers reside in the core, and second, that saving that core while letting the extremities die off is somehow seen as a good thing. Post-crisis policies around the globe are directed at saving the financial system, not the people the crisis has pushed into poverty. Since these people are not seen as crucial to the survival of the core, and the system as a whole, they are – almost ritually – sacrificed on the system’s economic altar.
In a reason-driven society one would expect a discussion on the viability and the intrinsic value of the system itself, but our global economic system, as I’ve said many times before, exhibits far more symptoms of a religion than a rational scheme. Our “analysis” of the system and the crises it goes through takes place in the part of our brain that deals with belief rather than rational thought. Therefore, we are bound, nay, certain, to get this wrong. You might think that a body can survive minus a few digits, but that is questionable, not in the least, to stick with the hypothermia analogy, because additional problems and afflictions such as gangrene are a major threat to the body’s ultimate survival.
In our economic systems, we see this in Europe, where a few weeks ago it was claimed that the recession was over. And while that may be sort of true according to some specific dataset, and some specific timeframe, recessions don’t of course happen in spreadsheets and datasets, they happen to real people in real streets. And if you would ask the people in the countryside in Greece or Portugal whether they feel the recession is over, we all know what the answer would be.
The core part of their nations may be suffering a bit less, but that’s only because the peripheries suffer more. This is a general pattern. Money today can only be made by taking it away from other people, who – paradoxically or not – don’t have any to begin with. Our economies only managed to “grow” in recent decades, since about the late 1970’s, because we borrowed from ourselves to buy products produced by people working for wages only a fraction of our own, and when borrowing from ourselves was no longer a viable option, arguably 10 years ago, though 30 years might ultimately prove a better estimate, we started borrowing from our own futures and those of our children. While the core, the financial and political system, which had accumulated by far the biggest part of the debt, escaped the blame and often even fortified itself by taking more and more away from the periphery.
Which is why it’s nonsense to claim Europe’s recession is over. Granted, it’s a timely claim, given that in Germany, Angela Merkel faces federal elections on September 22, and we never should have expected anything but rosy numbers to come out and support her bid, but it makes no rational sense. Germany’s numbers may look sort of alright, even if you have to wonder how much that has to do with that same election, but we’ve already seen acknowledged pre-election – in a clear sign of how confident Merkel is – that Greece needs another bailout, and there’s no way Portugal will not need one; Merkel and the ECB are just waiting for the politically least damaging timing to announce the next phases. And the Italian and Spanish populations have been forced through the austerity wringer so tightly any meaningful definition of the term “growth” won’t be applicable for a long time, if ever, to their societies.
O sequestro do Presidente da Bolívia Evo Morales, impedindo que seu avião sobrevoasse o espaço europeu e a revelação da espionagem universal por parte dos órgãos de informação e controle do governo norte-americano (NSA) nos levam a refletir sobre um tema cultural de graves consequências: a arrogância. Os fatos referidos mostram a que nível chegou a arrogância dos europeus forçadamente alinhados aos EUA. Somente foi superada pela arrogância pessoal de Hitler e do nazismo. A arrogância é um tema central da reflexão grega de onde viemos. Modernamente, foi estudada com profundidade por um pensador italiano com formação em economia, sociologia e psicologia analítica, Luigi Zoja, cujo livro foi lançado no Brasil: “História da Arrogância” (Axis Mundi, São Paulo, 2000).
Neste livro denso, se faz a história da arrogância, nas culturas mundiais, especialmente na cultura ocidental. Os pensadores gregos (filósofos e dramaturgos) notaram que a racionalidade que se libertava do mito vinha habitada por um demônio que a levaria a conhecer e a desejar ilimitadamente, num processo sem fim. Essa energia tende a romper todos os limites e terminar na arrogância, no excesso e na desmedida, o verdadeiro pecado que os deuses castigavam impiedosamente. Foi chamada de hybris: o excesso em qualquer campo da vida humana e de Nêmeses o princípio divino que pune a arrogância.
O imperativo da Grécia antiga era méden ágan: “nada de excesso”. Tucídides fará Péricles, o genial político de Atenas, dizer: “amamos o belo; mas, com frugalidade; usamos a riqueza para empreendimentos ativos, sem ostentações inúteis; para ninguém a pobreza é vergonhosa, mas é vergonhoso não fazer o possível para superá-la”. Em tudo buscavam a justa medida e autocontenção.
A ética oriental, budista e hindu, pregava a imposição de limites ao desejo. O Tao Te King já sentenciava: “não há desgraça maior do que não saber se contentar” (cap.46); “teria sido melhor ter parado antes que o copo transbordasse” (cap.9).
A hybris-excesso-arrogância é o vício maior do poder, seja pessoal, seja de um grupo, de uma ideologia ou de um Império. Hoje essa arrogância ganha corpo no Império norte-americano que a todos submete e no ideal do crescimento ilimitado que subjaz à nossa cultura e à economia política.
Esse excesso-arrogância chegou, nos dias atuais, a uma culminância em duas frentes: na vigilância ilimitada que consiste na capacidade de um poder imperial controlar, por sofisticada tecnologia cibernética, todas pessoas, violar os direitos de soberania de um país e o direito inalienável à privacidade pessoal. É um sinal de fraqueza e de medo, pois o Império não consegue mais convencer com argumentos e atrair por seus ideais. Então precisa usar a violência direta, a mentira, o desrespeito aos direitos e aos estatutos consagrados internacionalmente. Ou então as desculpas pífias e nada convincentes do Secretário de Estado norte-americano quando visitou, há dias, o Brasil. Segundo os grandes historiadores das culturas, Toynbee e Burckhard, estes são os sinais inequívocos da decadência irrefreável dos Impérios. Nada do que se funda sobre a injustiça, a mentira e a violação de direitos se sustenta. Chega o dia de sua verdade e de sua ruína. Mas ao afundarem causam estragos inimagináveis.
A segunda frente da hybris-excesso reside no sonho do crescimento ilimitado pela exploração desapiedada dos bens e serviços naturais. O Ocidente criou e exportou para todo mundo este tipo de crescimento, medido pela quantidade de bens materiais (PIB). Ele rompe com a lógica da natureza que sempre se autorregula mantendo a interdependência de todos com todos e a preservação da teia da vida. Assim uma árvore não cresce ilimitadamente até o céu; da mesma forma o ser humano conhece seus limites físicos e psíquicos. Mas esse projeto fez com que o ser humano impusesse à natureza a sua regulação arrogante que não quer reconhecer limites: assim consome até adoecer e, ao mesmo tempo procura a saúde total e a imortalidade biológica. Agora que os limites da Terra se fizeram sentir, pois se trata de um planeta pequeno e doente, força-o com novas tecnologias a produzir mais. A Terra se defende criando o aquecimento global com seus eventos extremos.
What do you do when something you always thought was a good thing starts to look like the root cause of our demise? You start asking questions. And you start thinking about the evidence. That is what I’ve been doing for the past many years after seeing the evidence of failures of some of America’s most treasured institutions.
I have to be blunt. Capitalism, corporatism, and profit taking are killing the planet, or large and growing swaths of it. Politics, governance, and the education system are acting as willing accomplices to assist. Of course, it is really the people who work within these institutions who are at fault, both for shaping them to their current embodiments, and for promoting them as good and worthwhile. Ultimately we humans are at fault for being just too ignorant and unwise to see what incredible damage we are doing to the Earth and even ourselves.
I won’t recapitulate what all of the various problems are that we are causing or even entertain a conversation about them since the evidence for them is so abundant, and a little simple connecting of the dots will lead to the understanding of how they are all interconnected and will collectively exacerbate our predicament. When the planet is significantly altered beyond recognition, there is a very high likelihood that the vast majority of humanity will suffer the same fate. I and many aware writers have covered this before. Only, to what avail?
After watching this drama unfold for the last one and a half decades (and noting the accelerated pace with which it is doing so) I have drawn the conclusion that absolutely nothing can be done at this juncture to mitigate these problems. And even if it could no one with the ability to make a difference will endeavor to do so. I have given up completely on the political and business leadership in the developed world. I’ve given up on the scientific prowess of the US. I’ve given up on our education system. Put simply, there is, in my opinion, no institution or group of people who (have the power/effectiveness and) can or would make the effort to change anything that might make even a modicum of difference. There are many people who do see and do try to help, but just like me, have no influence that could conceivably reach the scale needed, at least, to lessen the pain about to be inflicted. There are many, like Bill McKibben, who have relatively high public visibility but cannot seem to move the conversation, let alone action, fast enough to have any bearing on the ultimate outcome.
At least that is what I think will be the case until it is so obvious that we are taking a leap from the high dive into an empty pool. Then, I imagine, everyone will start doing something, in panic, of course. Lots of finger pointing and rending of loin cloths, but it will be too late. Most unfortunate. This is pessimism at its worst, I admit, as well as cynicism. But I come by these attitudes honestly by having opened my eyes to what is happening and seeing what is not happening that should. And it always comes back to the same baseline. Homo sapiens should be called Homo calidus, “man the clever” and definitely not “man the wise.”
The two things that are killing us are actually variations on a single theme. They appear as biological and individual economic profit taking. The former translates into exponentially rising biomass concentrated in a single species, us. The latter translates into consumption for the sake of consumption and at whatever speed we can obtain. Both have their roots in the biology of individual organisms. Every organism that ever existed has attempted to maximize its biological profit (excess material and energy over and above that needed to maintain) in order to reproduce as much as possible. Thus we human individuals are effectively programmed to always seek to maximize our resource consumption. However, for us, due to our technological ability to consume exosomatic energies and aggregate material goods above and beyond our mere biomass, we are acting like a catalyst for a runaway process of extraction. And, extraction at rates substantially higher than nature can replenish. Worse still, at the end of consumption, the output waste streams, are coming out at rates greater than the environment can absorb. Ergo, depletion on the input end and poisoning on the output end.
Many of us who have been paying attention to the state of the world over the last half century have now begun to realize with growing horror that the progressive deterioration we have been tracking shows no signs of resolution In fact, to some of us it looks as though there is no way to resolve this deepening crisis. The end of the track is in sight. The planetary factory is in flames, and all the exit doors are barred.
Proposed technical solutions are utterly inadequate to the scale of the problem. Many ideas like geoengineering will simply make matters worse. There is no political constituency for degrowth – none at all. There is precious little political support for even putting a light foot on the brake. This road to Hell has been paved with the very best of intentions – giving our children a better life stands near the top of the list – but here we are nonetheless. The climate is signalling that our future may be a little warmer than we were expecting, once our seven-billion-passenger train passes those gates.
Now that the denouement is in sight, I’m setting aside the anger and outrage, the blame and shame, to focus my attention instead on why this outcome seems to have been utterly inevitable and unstoppable.
Why has this happened? I don’t buy the traditional “broken morality” or “flawed genetics” arguments. After all, our genetics seemed to be perfectly appropriate for a million years, and the elements of morality that some of us see as sub-optimal (the greed and shortsightedness) have been with us to varying degrees since before the days of Australopithecus. I don’t think it’s just a mistake on our part or a bug in the program – it appears to be a part of the program of life itself. It looks to me as though much deeper forces have been at work throughout human history, and have shaped this outcome.
The main difficulty I have with all the technical, political, economic and social reform proposals I’ve seen is that they run counter to some very deep-seated aspects of human behavior and decision-making. Mainly, they assume that human intelligence and analytical ability control our behavior, and from what I’ve seen, that’s simply not true. In fact it’s untrue to such an extent that I don’t even think it’s a “human” issue per se.
I have come to think that most of our collective choices and actions are shaped by physical forces so deep that they can’t even be called “genetic”. I haven’t written anything definitive about this yet, but the conclusion I have come to in the last six months is that a physical principle called the “Maximum Entropy Production Principle”, which is closely related to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, actually underlies the structure of life itself. Its operation has shaped the energy-seeking, replicative behavior of everything from bacteria to humans. All our intelligence does is makes its operation more effective.
This principle is behind the appearance of life in the first place, has guided the development of genetic replication and natural selection, and has embedded itself in our behavior at the very deepest level. Like all life, our mandate is simple: survive and reproduce so as to form a metastable dissipative structure. All of human behavior and history has been oriented towards executing this mandate as effectively as possible. This “survive and reproduce” program springs from a universal law of physics, much like gravity. As a result it even precedes genetics as a driver of human behavior. And lest there be any lingering doubt about the connection to our current predicament, the survival imperative is what causes all living organisms to exhibit energy-seeking behavior. Humans just do this better than any other organism in the history of the planet because of our intelligence.
In this context, the evolutionary fitness role of human intelligence is to act as a limit-removal mechanism, to circumvent any obstacles in the way of making make our growth in terms of energy use and reproduction more effective. It’s why we are blind to the need for limits both as individuals (in general) and collectively as cultures. We acknowledge limits only when they are so close as to present an immediate existential threat, as they were and are in hunter-gatherer societies. As a result we tend to make hard changes only in response to a crisis, not in advance of it. Basically, the goal of life is to live rather than die, and to do this it must grow rather than shrink. This imperative governs everything we think and do.
As a result, I don’t think humanity in general will put any kind of sustainability practices in place until long after they are actually needed (i.e. after population and consumption rates have begun to crash). I don’t think it is possible for a group as large as 7 billion people to agree that such proactive measures are necessary. We are as blind to the need for limits as a fish is to water and for similar reasons. After the crisis has incontrovertibly begun we’ll do all kinds of things, but by then we will be hampered by the climate crisis and by severe shortages of both resources and the technology needed to use them.
I have given up speculating on possible outcomes, because they are so inherently unpredictable, at least in detail. But what I’m discovering about the way life works at a deep level makes me continually less optimistic. I now think near-term human extinction (say within the next hundred years) has a significantly non-zero probability.
Our cybernetic civilization is approaching a “Kardashev Type 0/1 boundary” and I don’t think it’s possible for us to make the jump to Type 1. Like most other people, Kardashev misunderstood the underlying drivers of human behavior, assuming them to be a combination of ingenuity and free will. We indeed have ingenuity, but only in the direction of growth (and damn the entropic consequences). We can’t manage preemptive de-growth or even the application of the Precautionary Principle, because as a collective organism humanity doesn’t actually have free will (despite what it feels like to us individual humans). Instead we exhibit an emergent behavior that is entirely oriented towards growth.
I see no purpose in wasting further physical, financial or emotional energy on trying to avoid the inevitable. Given our situation and what I think is its root cause, I generally tell people who see the unfolding crisis and want to make changes in their lives simply to follow their hearts and their personal values. I’m not exactly advising them to “Eat, drink and be merry”, though. You might think of it more as, “Eat, drink and be mindful.”
July, 25, 2013
Um Passeio ao Campo, Jean Renoir
O Atalante, Jean Vigo
O Peregrino, Chaplin
Tempos Modernos, Chaplin
Stagecoach, John Ford
Nazarin, Luis Buñuel
O Anjo Exterminador, Luis Buñuel
Citizen Kane, Orson Welles
Ladrões de Bicicletas, De Sica
Umberto D., De Sica
Alemanha, Ano Zero, Rossellini
Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder
O Intendente Sanshô, Mizoguchi
Contos da Lua Vaga, Mizoguchi
A Sombra do Guerreiro, Kurosawa
La Ronde, Max Ophuls
Harakiri, Masaki Kobayashi
A Saga de Anatahan, Joseph von Sternberg
Johnny Guitar, Nicholas Ray
A Harpa Birmanesa, Ichikawa
Verão de Amor, Bergman
Cenas da Vida Conjugal, Bergman
Morangos Silvestres, Bergman
Os inúteis, Fellini
Pierrot le Fou, Godard
Bande à Part, Godard
Passarinhos e passarões, Pasolini
Il Posto, Ermano Olmi
Uma Mulher Sob Influência, Cassavetes
O Medo Devora a Alma, Fassbinder
O Direito do Mais Forte à Liberdade, Fassbinder
O Mercador das Quatro Estações, Fassbinder
Kes, Ken Loach
High Hopes, Mike Leigh
Palombela Rossa, Moretti
Brandos Costumes, Seixas Santos
A Comédia de Deus, César Monteiro
Le Vent nous emportera, Kiarostami
Todas as Manhãs do Mundo, Alain Corneau
Trust, Hal Hartley
A Rapariga de Monday, Hartley
A Vida em Directo, Peter Weir
Rosetta, Jean Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Haverá sangue, P.T. Anderson